Footnotes: Sutton House hosts artists responses to shoe archive
- Credit: Archant
A Georgian lady’s slipper, a Lifeguard’s boot and a sheep’s shoe are among the historic footwear from the London College of Fashion on display at historic Hackney house
Artists inspired by historic footwear from a previously unseen archive have created a series of installations at historic Sutton House
Footnotes traces a trail through the National Trust property featuring 30 shoes from the London College of Fashion’s eclectic archive.
Curator Alison Moloney’s selections include a Victorian silk slipper, a shoe made for a giant and a Lifeguard’s thigh boot.
Also on display is a Victorian girl’s shoe found under the floorboards at Sutton House from the days when it was a school of etiquette for girls and white silk shoes made for Queen Alexandra but reputedly not collected and handed down to the shoemaker’s daughter after she went into mourning with the death of Edward VIII.
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She said none of the exhibits had been seen in public because the LCF archive is normally only accessible to student researchers so they can understand their construction and technqiues.
“Most exhibitions celebrate the deisgner, the wearer or the spectacular, but this is very much looking at ojbects that might not have been collected by most museums because they aren’t in pristine condition and we don’t know their provencance: who made them owned them or wore them.
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“Some are so fragile they show the impact of wear, some are very everyday, but because they are free of those personal biographies they become objects that artists can experiment with and make new work from - they can really inspire new artistic expression.”
Moloney, who believes the archive came from the Cordwainer’s Technical College and were samples collected by lecturers for students to work with, has asked four artists to respond to the shoes.
“We sepnt a lot of time opening every box containing 600 shoes, to see what themes developed. All archives are inherently idiosyncratic but we pulled out five themes.”
The first was the “extraordinary” orthopaedic shoes from the 1930s made by specialists or adapted by students.
“With contemporary eyes they have incredible sculptural appeal. They are designed so the wearer is balanced through the use of shoes ”
“Artist Eelko Moorer’s practice explores extreme balance and he has created a VR experience where the audience is embedded in the artwork and are destabilised by it. It’s the opposite of what these shoes were designed to do.”
The archive also contains silk slippers from the 1820s-1860s. “They were weighted with metal fibre to give them shine which has now degenerated but there is real beauty in their fragility.”
Ellen Sampson whose work focuses on how worn shoes have their own stories, made shoes from paper and leather, then wore them in a trail around Hackney.
“There’s a film of her next to the shoes showing her putting them on, about to embark, then returning. The audience have to imagine where she walked from looking at the marks on the shoes.”
Linda Brothwell takes an old Japanese clog made in the 1930s as inspiration for her installation.
“She’s a jewellery artist whose process is about repair and she wanted to express the way our shoes are disintegrating - when she saw the clog she could tell that the maker was left handed from the way the twine had been knotted and that his tools were blunt. She can read an object and understand how it was made.”
Brothwell’s piece Silent Apprentice saw her remaking the tools that the original craftsman would have used and painstakingly recreating the clog as he would have made it.
Dance artist Laila Diallo has taken “everyday Victorian boots worn by women who were not special or from the elite” and created a sound response based on her own everyday rituals, from doing the school run to the supermarket shop.
“It’s about what our shoes do in our daily lives and distilling those everyday occurences into a piece of work.”
A final section on scale includes a military thigh boot worn by a Lifeguard in 1850, a tiny shoe worn by a sheep to prevent dry rot, and “an oversized men’s shoe that was categorised as a shoe for a giant”.
Inspired by fairtales such as The Elves and the Shoemaker and Cinderella, the audience is invited to respond by writing their own stories and an illustrator has created work for children to colour in in the Gallery room.
The exhibition runs from May 9 athroughout the summer, with a programme of fairytale readinggs based on shoe stories, a dance workshop on how shoes inform movement and talks.